Maple Leafs Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By John-Eric Iannicello

It didn’t take long for new GM Brian Burke to make his mark on the Maple Leafs prospect pool. Nine of Burke’s prospect additions have made their way into the Fall Top 20. 

Forward Nazem Kadri, the Leafs seventh overall selection in 2009, takes over the No. 1 spot. 

Maple Leafs Top 20 at a glance

1. (NR) Nazem Kadri, C – 8.0 C
2. (NR) Jonas Gustavsson, G – 7.5 B
3. (3) Mikhail Stefanovich, C – 7.5 C
4. (18) Tyler Bozak, C – 7.5 C
5. (6) Viktor Stalberg, LW – 7.5 C
6. (4) Jimmy Hayes, RW – 7.0 C
7. (NR) Kenny Ryan, RW – 7.0 C
8. (NR) Jesse Blacker, D – 7.0 C
9. (5) Chris DiDomenico, C – 7.5 D
10. (NR) Christian Hanson, RW – 6.5 B
11. (9) James Reimer, G – 7.0 C
12. (8) Dale Mitchell, RW – 6.5 C
13. (NR) Jerry D’Amigo, LW – 6.5 C
14. (14) Phil Oreskovic, D – 6.0 B
15. (16) Jerome Flaake, LW – 6.5 C
16. (11) Matt Frattin, RW – 7.0 D
17. (13) Joel Champagne, C – 6.0 C
18. (NR) Carl Gunnarsson, D – 6.0 C
19. (NR) Robert Slaney, LW – 6.0 C
20. (NR) Jamie Devane, LW – 6.0 D

1.  Nazem Kadri, C, 18

6’0, 167 lbs
Acquired: 1st Round, 7th overall in 2009

The highly-skilled Kadri will have big expectations on him next season as a key piece of Burke’s reconstruction effort. Kadri missed time last season with a broken jaw, but still managed to tally 25 goals and 53 assists in 56 OHL games. 

The London Knights forward is highly skilled and fearless on the ice.  While there are questions surrounding his game-to-game compete level and some of his decision making, his positives outweigh those negatives.  He’ll require added to make the appropriate jump to the NHL. Should he return to the OHL he’ll be expected to be a driving offensive force for the Knights with the departure of John Tavares

2.  Jonas Gustavsson, G, 24

6’3, 192 lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – July 2009

Gustavsson made noise this season backstopping Färjestad to a SEL championship. With a 1.96 GAA and a .932 save percentage in the regular season, there was no question why he was highly regarded in the hockey world, but it was in the SEL playoffs that Gustavsson took his game to the next level. In 13 games, he posted a tiny 1.03 goals against and an outstanding .961 save percentage. Along the way, he broke Henrik Lundqvist’s (NYR) SEL playoff shutout record of 180 minutes. 

Dubbed the best goalie outside the NHL, Gustavsson covers a great deal of the net with his 6’3 frame. He’s aggressive and challenges shooters, playing the angles to his advantage. It took a lot of patience on Burke’s part to land this sought-after free agent; sitting out on the opening week of the free-agent frenzy was a testament to his desire to land the netminder. Gustavsson is expected to play backup to goaltender Vesa Toskala, who is on the final year of his contract. Gustavsson has all the necessary tools to be an NHL goalie. He will be 25 in October.

3. Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, 19

6’2, 202lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 98th overall in 2008

Stefanovich proved to be the offensive force many knew he could be this season. In 56 games with the Quebec Remparts, Stefanovich collected 76 points, including an impressive 49 goals. He finished third in league scoring, but also missed time when he played for Belarus at the World Juniors (he also played a minor role at the World Championships).

Stefanovich displays elite offensive talent, but question marks still surround his consistency away from the puck as well as his willingness to engage physically (even with his 6’2 frame). He is expected to play in the AHL this coming season and he’ll be counted on to produce immediately.

4. Tyler Bozak, C, 23
6’1, 180lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – April 2009

Another highly sought-after free agent was University of Denver forward star Tyler Bozak. The 23-year-old passed up the opportunity to turn pro last season as he felt he wasn’t physically ready to make the transition to the pros. This year, he was limited to only 19 games after a knee-on-knee collision in December, but it didn’t deter the 20+ teams that were interested in his services. He finished the season with eight goals and 15 assists in 23 games.

Bozak is an intelligent two-way player who has good offensive instincts. His main asset is his hockey sense and knows how to position himself for on-ice success. He has the potential to be a second line center who can play special teams and is likely the most NHL-ready among the current prospect group. Bozak will have the opportunity to take a role with the Leafs right out of camp, but the roster is crowded down the middle.

5. Viktor Stalberg, LW, 23
6’3, 210lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 161st overall in 2006

Passed over in his draft year, Stalberg was selected as an overage player in 2006 and is making former Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr look like a genius for gambling on the late bloomer.

The 6’3 210lb Swedish forward is an effortless skater and has a nose for the net. He tallied 24 goals and 22 assists in 39 games last year for the Univ. of Vermont and was named a Hobey Baker finalist. He also participated in two Marlies games at season’s end, in which he collected one assist. 

Stalberg may be a dark horse to make the Leafs out of camp. His size and speed dictate that he should have an NHL career in some form, but his consistency and transition to the pros will determine just how much of an NHL impact he will have. With the combination of tools at his disposal, Stalberg could develop into a top-six scoring threat.

6. Jimmy Hayes, RW, 19

6’5, 210lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 60th overall in 2008

Hayes had a respectable freshman season with Boston College, recording eight goals and five assists in 36 games. As the year progressed, he started to earn more ice-time. Hayes also played for Team USA at the World Juniors this past year, though he didn’t get a lot of ice time. He scored twice in six games at the tournament. 

The big forward is a long-term project with top-six upside. He skates well, protects the puck with his 6’5 frame and has a good array of offensive ability. At this point, he’s likely to stay the full four years at BC — growing and learning how to utilize his size more efficiently.

7. Kenny Ryan, RW, 18
6’0, 204lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th overall in 2009

Ryan is a prototypical Burke player. He plays an aggressive, checking style and is a character player. He also brings a good amount of skill to his game with a hard shot and good anticipation.

He has the ability to be a power forward at the NHL level. Even if he’s only of average NHL height, his strong frame allows him to battle hard to the net and open up the ice for his teammates. Not a pretty player, Ryan gets the job done on the ice and is a workhorse. He scored 27 goals and assisted 22 times in 62 games last year on the U.S. National U18 team.

8. Jesse Blacker, D, 18

6’1, 190lbs
Acquired:  2nd Round, 58th overall in 2009

Blacker will be returning to a powerhouse Windsor Spitfire squad this fall with higher expectations. He recorded 21 points in 67 games last season.

Blacker is a coachable player who succeeds in multiple situations. He engages physically and is a team-first player. His willingness offensively on the rush can sometimes get him in trouble defensively, but it showcases some of the untapped offensive skill that he possesses. While the opportunity to take a more prominent offensive role on the Spitfires blue line may be blocked by Ryan Ellis (NAS) and Cam Fowler, Blacker will be looked upon to provide another year of steady two-way play that made him a top-60 selection.

9. Chris DiDomenico, C, 20
5’11, 176lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 164th overall in 2007

DiDomenico was having arguably the best season possible before he broke his femur late in the season. He was finding new life offensively with the Drummondville Voltigeurs scoring a mind-boggling 35 points in 15 playoff games when he went down. It would leave him sidelined as Drummondville made its way to the Memorial Cup final four.

DiDomenico also saw pre-season action with the Maple Leafs, and helped Canada win gold at the World Juniors scoring seven points in six games. 

While his talent and determination have never been in question, his injury will no doubt slow his progress. He is expected to miss a good portion of the upcoming season, and it may be difficult to get back up to speed while making a transition to pro. 

10. Christian Hanson, RW, 23
6’4, 228lbs
Acquired: Free Agent – March 2009

Son of the legendary ‘Slap Shot’ star Dave Hanson, Christian isn’t as quick to drop the gloves as his father. This Hanson prefers publicity for his points, rather than his penalty minutes.

Hanson was the first major prospect signing that Burke made late in the regular season. Hanson, out of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, was able to play in five of the remaining Leaf games recording one goal and one assist. Hanson displayed nerves, but also a glimpse of a legitimate NHL player. He went to the net with authority and was able to keep up with the play. Hanson has the ability to be a good secondary point producer who can open up the ice for his team. His roster spot is not guaranteed and he may start the year on the Marlies.

11. James Reimer, G, 21

6’2, 208lbs
Acquired:  4th Round, 99th overall in 2006

Reimer bounced around this past season, but had success while doing it.  At the start of the year he was assigned to the lowly Reading Royals (ECHL) and played 22 games with the club, posting a 3.30 goals against average, but a .904 save percentage. Maple Leaf management was looking for Reimer to get some post-season play on a more established team, so he was loaned to the South Carolina Stingrays late in the season. Not only did Reimer backstop the Stingrays to a Kelly Cup Championship, but he was named MVP in the finals. The 21-year-old had a 4-1-2 record in the playoffs and posted 2.17 goals against with a .929 save percentage. 

Reimer will have the opportunity to take a starting position with the Marlies, but will most likely play a good number of games as backup. Reimer has the size and poise required to be an NHL goaltender.

12. Dale Mitchell, RW, 20
5’9, 207lbs
Acquired:  3rd Round, 74th overall in 2007

A veteran leader on the Windsor Spitfires, Mitchell was a key ingredient for the Memorial Cup champions. Mitchell plays every shift as if it were his last, and even though he only stands at 5’9, he is a fearless competitor.

Mitchell recorded 68 points in 66 games in 2008-09. He was a key scorer for the Spitfires both in the regular season (33 goals) and in the playoffs (14 goals).

The 20-year-old will be looked on to provide a solid checking game for the Marlies this year as he begins his pro career. While unlikely to translate into a legit top-six winger, Mitchell has all the necessary tools required to be a fan favorite on the third line.

13. Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 18

5’10, 196lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 158th overall in 2009

Similar to Mitchell, D’Amigo is another player who leaves it all on the ice.

While he was the second leading scorer for the USNTDP (23 goals and 33 assists in 53 games), there was one specific stage where D’Amigo made a name for himself — at the U18’s in Fargo in April. He recorded four goals and nine assists in seven games for the Americans and was named to the tournament all-star team. 

D’Amigo is expected to play for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this season. The determined two-way forward will need to work on his skating technique in order to make the jump successfully to the NHL, but will have plenty of development time as he spends the next few seasons with RPI. 

14. Phil Oreskovic, D, 22

6’4, 217lbs
Acquired: 3rd Round, 82nd overall in 2005

One of more surprising prospects this past season was Oreskovic. The 22-year-old has made great strides over the past two seasons with the Marlies – specifically in the skating department, which until this past season looked to be a huge hurdle for the 6’4 defenseman.

While the Burke regime may have given the hard-nosed, stay-at-home blueliner an opportunity sooner than expected, the progress that Oreskovic made can not be ignored. He’s been a solid defensive player for the Marlies, posting a team-leading +17 this past season. While the offence will likely never be there, Oreskovic will make opposing players think twice about entering the defensive zone.

Oreskovic will be a Marlie for at least one more season. If he continues to develop at the same rate, he’ll be a strong candidate for a roster spot a season from now. 

15. Jerome Flaake, LW, 19

6’2, 187lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 130th overall in 2008

Flaake has improved as he finds his niche in Germany’s elite league. His 16 points in 43 games as a 19-year-old was a massive improvement from the single point he recorded as a rookie a season ago. He’s been given more opportunity to grow as a player and he hasn’t disappointed.

Flaake was also a member of Germany’s World Junior team this past season, leading the team with three goals and five points in six games.  He’ll have the opportunity to lead Germany at the World Juniors again this year.

He is under contract with Cologne for next season, but could come to North America the season after. Still lean for his size, Flaake will require bulk to his frame in order to ease his transition to the pros. 

16. Matt Frattin, RW, 21

5’11, 193lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 99th overall in 2007

Another prospect who made positive statistical strides last season was 21-year-old Frattin. The sophomore known for his goal-scoring instincts tallied 13 goals, which was a nine-goal improvement over his freshman campaign. His 25 points in 42 games was also an improvement on the 15 he had a season ago.

While trouble away from the rink this summer may have taken the shine off of a relative successful season, Frattin seems to have found his comfort zone in the NCAA. His game-to-game consistency still needs work and skating may ultimately hold him back, but there has been positive development up until this point.

17. Joel Champagne, C, 19

6’4, 220lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 129th overall in 2008

A trade 28 games into last season was the best thing that could have happened to Champagne. The 6’4 center displayed some unexpected offensive ability once he joined the PEI Rockets. In the 24 games there, Champagne became a leading offensive catalyst, recording 14 goals and 26 assists, bringing his season total to 61 points in 52 games.

Champagne will look to build on his offensive success next season, though his game at the pro level may be more suited as a checking-line player due to his strong play in his own end. Questions still surround his skating, specifically acceleration. 

18. Carl Gunnarsson, D, 22

6’2, 189lbs
Acquired: 7th Round, 194th overall in 2007

The lone Swedish defensive prospect in the Leafs system is 22-year-old Gunnarsson. The two-way blueliner showed promising development over the past season. He was rewarded with an entry-level contract from the Maple Leafs and a spot on Sweden’s World Championship roster this past summer.

Gunnarsson recorded six goals and 10 assists in 53 games in the SEL this season. In the World Championships, he scored twice in six games.

Gunnarsson will be a part of a young, revamped Marlies defensive core this fall and may even see a call-up or two throughout the year.

19. Robert Slaney, LW, 20

6’2, 205lbs
Acquired:  Free Agent – April 2009

Slaney was a free-agent signing orchestrated by former Maple Leaf staff member Joe Nieuwendyk.

The 20-year-old was awarded a contract after an impressive season with Cape Breton. He led the team with 81 points in 63 games and also led in goals with 36. On top of a successful regular season, Slaney was having an impressive playoff before going down to injury. He scored five goals and four assists in six playoff games.

A character forward with good size, Slaney displays strong puck possession skills. His big body is able to shield the puck efficiently and open up space for teammates. He leads by example with a strong work ethic and is a team player.

20. Jamie Devane, LW, 18
6’5, 209lbs
Acquired:  3rd Round, 69th overall in 2009

A surprise selection in the third round of the 2009 draft, Devane is a fierce OHL heavy-weight at only 18. With teams looking to get their hands on the next Milan Lucic, the Maple Leafs gambled on the 6’5 behemoth. 

He loves to initiate contact and protects his teammates without hesitation. He is also a fairly disciplined player. Outside of his 14 (recorded) fighting majors he only amassed 22 penalty minutes. His point totals leave something to be desired with only 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 64 games as a rookie for Plymouth. His skating is the biggest concern as it requires much work.